Help Us Reclaim a Foreign Worker's Confiscated Passport from Her Employer!
Brenda (pseudonym as she wishes to stay anonymous) is a 30-year-old woman from the Philippines who came to Japan three years ago to pursue her dreams. She began working in the Greater Tokyo Area as a translator and interpreter at an immigration law office. When she was hired in May 2019, she gave her passport and other personal documents to the office at their request so that they could process her visa status. However, even after she received her visa in July, the office has refused to return Brenda's personal documents including her passport.
Please help us fund the court proceedings to reclaim Brenda’s passport, university diploma, and university transcript from her employer. Without her passport and other personal documents, Brenda is in a vulnerable position where she cannot seek a new job or leave Japan to return home. Confiscating an employee’s passport is illegal in many countries around the world, and is broadly considered a human rights violation. Please help us regain Brenda’s freedom and set positive precedent for vulnerable foreign workers!
Rampant Abuse of Foreign Workers in Japan
Many foreign workers in Japan who are mostly from Asian countries such as China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam are in a uniquely vulnerable position in which they often do not speak Japanese, do not know where or how to get help, and are often in financially capricious positions. Speaking their truth and seeking help is a daunting task that many foreign workers avoid, and consequently, their vulnerable positions are exploited. To create a more inclusive society, we hope that Brenda’s case will instigate protections for foreign workers who decide to live and work in Japan.
Brenda began working at Advanceconsul Immigration Law Office (the Office) in May 2019 after finishing Japanese language school. She learned about the Office when she sought the Office’s advice about working and living in Japan long-term. The Office, managed by a certified visa application agency, invited her to work at the Office, and recommended that she renew her visa status as she worked.
Brenda gave the company documents such as her passport, diploma, and transcript in order for the company to process her visa status. When submitting those documents, the company made her sign a contract in Japanese that allowed the company to “manage” her passport. At the time, Brenda didn’t understand the contract because it was in Japanese and the company did not fully explain what the contract stipulated in Japanese, English, or her native Tagalog. Brenda trusted the Office and signed the contract. After all, they agreed to process her visa, allowed her to work there, and further, they were an immigration law Office.
After her first month, Brenda checked her salary. Despite working for a month, she was paid barely 100,000 yen (about 910 USD): half of Japan’s average starting monthly salary and about 60% of what she would’ve earned working full-time at Tokyo’s hourly minimum wage.
Brenda wanted to quit; She knew she couldn’t support herself on this salary. But without her passport and other documents, she couldn’t look for a new job or even go home. When she asked for her documents back, her boss refused: “it’s the company’s rules”, “you’ll runaway if I give you your documents”. Brenda was devastated but continued to work for a couple of months before she quit via email in July.
Brenda messaged, “help me” to Posse’s Facebook page in Summer 2019 after quitting her job at the Office.
After contacting Posse, Brenda joined the Posse-affiliated labor union, the General Support Union, to instigate collective bargaining processes. However, the Office refused to even negotiate. Today, the Office still refuses to return Brenda’s passport and other documents, and refuses to pay her June and July salaries.
As a non-Japanese citizen, Brenda cannot find a new job without her passport. She is struggling to support herself and needs your help to fund court proceedings. A successful case will not only change Brenda’s situation, but instigate change in all foreign workers’ rights in Japan by preventing employers from confiscating employees’ passports.
The Need for International Support
Japan’s immigration policy is transforming. The transformation is bringing more foreign workers – mainly from other parts of Asia – to Japan to attend Japanese language schools and universities, to work in the Technical Intern Training Program, and to work in traditional jobs. While the admittance of more foreign workers and students has the potential to be mutually beneficial, Japanese laws and protections are yet to be put in place to defend often financially and socially vulnerable foreigners far from home and familiarity. Although Posse is fundraising and seeking support domestically, international support is also vital. Brenda’s story is one of many such stories, and increasing international support and pressure through awareness is key to holding foreign workers’ safeguards, such as the Japanese and Filipino government, accountable for their residents’ and citizens’ well-being.
The Legality of Confiscating Passports in Japan
Japanese law does not prohibit companies from keeping workers’ passports. Therefore, a company can take away a foreign worker’s passport by making him/her sign the contract similar to the one Brenda signed and pay them a low wage, practically enslaving them forever. Furthermore, even if a company is found to have confiscated a passport, there is no penalty; Companies can exploit and continue to exploit.
Posse is a Tokyo-based labor NPO fighting for workers' rights. Since 2006, we have been working on issues such as karoshi (literally, death from overwork), precarious work, and issues regarding foreign workers. We have been covered by a number of international media such as the Daily Beast, the Atlantic, Forbes, BBC, The Japan Times, and SBS (Australia) among many.
Even if they want to stand up for their rights, filing a lawsuit costs hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, which is a big obstacle. The campaign owner, Makoto Iwahashi, is a Posse staff member and we are raising funds on behalf of Brenda so that she can continue her fight for justice.
Posse members helping Brenda.